Neighbourhood. Environs. Community. Travelling full time means our “neighbourhood” changes regularly.
One of the best ways to discover – or rediscover – our surroundings is to have the chance to show them off to a visitor. I was incredibly lucky last week to host my best friend for four days, and took the chance to explore the area around our temporary home in Collingwood.
We took advantage of the sunshine on Barbie’s first day here by walking around town, starting with a stroll through the wooded paths leading from the shipyard area to Sunset Point, the beautiful waterfront park featuring smooth stone beaches, a terrific playground, stunning views of Nottawasaga Bay and further out into Georgian Bay, and a huge Inuksuk. One of the interesting things about parkland in Collingwood is the large number of trees that have memorial plaques at their bases. People seem to have really strong connections to this land, and want to remain a lasting part of it. The added bonus at Sunset Point is the seasonal restaurant serving fish and chips, burgers, fries, drinks, and hand-scooped ice cream. Naturally, “lunch” came in a cone.
On the way home, we varied our route in order to include the gorgeous historic homes on Minnesota Street and the Collingwood Museum, located in the old train station. Collingwood not only has a proud shipbuilding history, but was also the gateway to the north by virtue of being the terminus for the railroad carrying both goods and passengers from Toronto in the 1800’s and then onto boats heading north and west from Lake Huron to Lake Superior and Thunder Bay. The museum’s exhibits include indigenous artifacts as well as lots of models of ships built here, as well as looping videos of one of the huge freighters being “side-launched” (look it up, it’s fascinating!). The images of driving north on Hurontario Street looking straight ahead at a massive great lakes freighter in the shipyard were incredible. The last ship built here was in 1986, a coast guard vessel still patrolling the Northwest Passage, and involved in the search for Franklin’s ship the Erebus.
As we left the museum, I had to point out Collingwood’s cenotaph, which Ted and I agree is one of the most moving ones we have seen: a lone bugler. Looking at the statue you can almost hear the sound of Taps: the end of a day, the end of a battle. On the other side of the museum are 4 black granite Memorial Walls engraved with the names of all the Collingwood citizens who have served in Canada’s military. I think it is somewhat unique – and very special – to see the names of all who served as opposed just to those who died while serving.
After dinner we headed east along the Harbourfront Trail past the Awen’ Gathering Place, the Labyrinth and Collingwood’s beautiful Arboretum. By day’s end we had walked 16,000 steps – almost 10 km – enough to “earn” our glasses of Riesling.
Despite the on again off again threat of rain, we headed over to Blue Mountain Village, crossing from Simcoe County into Grey County en route, and took in the annual British Car Show as part of our day walking the hills, touring the stores, and indulging in a flight of local craft beers with our lunch of duck fat fries, steamed pretzels…. and salad (that balances it all out, right?). The town of Blue Mountains is very different from Collingwood, being comprised of several smaller villages including Thornbury (location of the town hall offices, library, etc) and the communities of Banks, Camperdown, Castle Glen Estates, Christie Beach, Clarksburg, Craigleith, Duncan, Gibraltar, Swiss Meadows, Heathcote, Kolapore, Little Germany, Lora Bay, Loree, Ravenna, Red Wing, Slabtown, and Victoria Corners. The ski village is the tourist hub, surrounded by enclaves of resorts, condos, huge homes, humbler chalets, and lots of farmland.
Once back “home” we strolled the boardwalk into the marsh where we were lucky enough to catch sight of a heron, swans, and a goose sitting on her nest, all accompanied by the musical trills of the always vocal red-winged blackbirds.
Although we only walked about 10,000 steps today – just over 6 km – we poured wine anyway to help us pore through the day’s pictures.
After starting our day with fancy coffees at #2 son’s house in Stayner, we headed back into Blue Mountains to tour a couple of the local wineries. Our first stop was Georgian Hills Vineyards where, after tasting 6 of their ciders and wines, we left with two bottles of l’Acadie white, and a pear dessert wine. From there we drove south of Clarksburg through miles and miles of gorgeous apple blossoms (this is not just ski country, but also Ontario’s largest apple growing region and home to many cider makers) to Roost Wines at Red Wing. Roost has only been open for 3 years, but their wines are already garnering attention, and their tasting room located at the top of a hill with views over Clarksburg and Thornbury all the way down to Georgian Bay is absolutely gorgeous. After tasting several of their offerings, we made ourselves comfy in a couple of leather chairs and enjoyed a charcuterie board with a glass of Frontenac white for Barbie (who also left with a bottle) and a glass of Two Wrongs Make A White (Siegerebbe/Pinot Grigio blend) for me.
Despite a side trip to walk the picturesque main street of Thornbury on the way home, we arrived realizing that we hadn’t come anywhere near our step goals for the day, so…. after dropping our purchases off safely we headed on foot to Millenium Park on the spit north of the Collingwood Terminals, hoping to see the groundhogs that live in the rocks there. Sadly, it seemed it was too windy for them to come out, but we did see a muskrat, lots of martens on the wing, a swan’s nest, and what we think was a very speedy otter dragging reeds through the water. Our goal of 8,000 steps exceeded, we settled in for (more) wine and dinner.
Geez. June 5th and only 10C with a wind chill making it feel like 6. Chilly winds notwithstanding, we were determined to walk the beach at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park today. Ted and I are living close by this summer and can go there often, but it’s not every day that Barbie is going to be here to stroll the longest freshwater beach in the world (Google it!).
Sadly, the combination of sustained heavy snowfall this past winter and rain this spring has created record high water levels in Lake Huron, resulting in much of the shoreline remaining under water. The 14km of beach is divided into 6 beach “areas”, from beach 1 which is the widest and busiest and the location of many special events each summer, through beach 6 which is the quietest and narrowest at a depth of about 10 metres (30+ feet) from the water line to the edge of the grassy dunes. Barbie and I started walking at beach 1 and had to stop before reaching beach 3 because the “beach” was completely under water. It was actually quite disorienting to see the waves undercutting the dunes and water covering the entire area where we are used to seeing sand.
We stayed on the beach as long as we could, which meant we got to meet Neal Mutiger (look him up on Google for more bird pics), a local birder who was on beach 1 monitoring the endangered piping plovers, who have nested on the sand. The north end of Wasaga Beach is a provincial park, so the plover habitat has been cordoned off from mid April when the plovers arrive until mid August when they head south. Far from discouraging beach tourism, piping plovers are so rarely seen that hundreds of birders and environmentalists bring their huge camera lenses, binoculars, and small telescopes to catch sight of them.
Look VERY closely. Near the pale sticks is a plover on its nest. The enclosure allows the tiny plovers free entry and exit, but prevents predators from raiding the nest.
Despite not being able to walk the entire beach, we clocked over 10,000 steps and felt we needed to celebrate with a late lunch of fresh poutine and ice cream cones at Lorna Dune, a Wasaga landmark that I remember visiting as a child.
It was really fun sharing some of the best things about the Collingwood area with my best friend this week. We likely won’t see each other for a few months, except via FaceTime, so after enjoying the movie Rocket Man at the local Cineplex, we toasted each other one more time with a glass of wine and a hug.